Episode 5. The Metabolic Compensation System and Sustainable Weight Loss

May 24, 2016 | Episodes | 0 comments

Show Notes

This episode was all about metabolic compensation and weight loss in the real world. It came about as Scott was inundated with emails a couple weeks back over an article in the New York Times about the metabolisms of former The Biggest Loser contestants. Basically, years later, it turned out that these contestants were burning way less calories than one would expect for someone their size–and again, this was years down the road.

Does this mean weight loss is hopeless? NO. But it does mean that forcing your body to extremes, and not being realistic, are not going to result in sustainable weight loss. They just won’t.

The main theme of the episode, then, was about strategies for dealing with this, and preventing the kinds of severe metabolic compensation we saw in the article, and that Scott has seen in bodybuilding and figure contestants for years.

Metabolic Compensation (Notes)

  • The kinds of things Scott saw in the competition world, where insane dieting is combined with taking bodies to their extremes.
  • Scott’s been using the term metabolic damage for years. People are now acknowledging that “metabolic compensation” happens, even though the term metabolic damage is still considered “not real.”
  • Speaking of which, many ignorant coaches play the “blame game.” As in, “Well I didn’t get metabolic damage, therefore my clients must be lying.”
  • The “genetics no one talks about.” Two people can seem to have very similar genetics in terms of how they look, and what they need to do to get lean. While one can “get away” with insane dieting, the other suffers more from the effects of metabolic compensation.
  • The mind games that losing weight and gaining it back play. Metabolic compensation is really hard to deal with from a psychological perspective. (One reason why prevention is the best cure.)
  • Mike’s ambivalent feelings towards the phrase “obesity is a disease.” It absolutely should be acknowledged, and we should fight ANY kind of fat shaming, tooth and nail. (He’s been through that!) BUT the phrase itself creates a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, and makes you feel like there’s “nothing you can do.” That’s not okay. There are things you can do. Anything that might make people feel helpless isn’t useful.


  • Use reasonable dieting. Use relative caloric deficits (~500-800 calories below your maintenance) instead of absolute ones (more than 800 calories per day below what your body needs to maintain). Note that Scott doesn’t like calorie counting specifically, but it is absolutely a good starting place.

  • Coax your body, don’t force it.

  • How do you coax your body? Don’t have specific dates. Your body will change at the rate it will change. Be in this for the long-term! As soon as you try to “force it” to “speed up” or anything, you’re no longer coaxing things as you should be.

  • Don’t demonize entire food groups. You need carbs. You need fats. You need protein.
  • That said, acknowledge that.. yes, some foods provide more satiety than others. Simple whole foods provide more satiation than simple sugars, especially simple sugars by themselves (snack foods).
  • Avoid losing lean mass. One of the reasons for weight rebounds is loss of both fat and lean tissue. The more lean tissue (muscle) you keep, the better off you’ll be down the road.
  • Accept that there’s a limit to what your body can be coaxed to do. What you see in the magazines is not realisticeven for the people in the magazines with great genetics.


Links / Resources mentioned